Support Wanes for Caricature of Fairness Doctrine

Politico reported (2/16/09) that a new poll shows that support for the Fairness Doctrine has dropped. Unfortunately, the policy described in the poll question bears no relationship to the Fairness Doctrine as it actually existed.

The Rasmussen polling firm asked respondents whether “the government should require all radio stations to offer equal amounts of conservative and liberal political commentary.” But the Fairness Doctrine never called for equal time for any points of view; it actually required, as codified in a 1959 amendment to the Communications Act of 1934, that “a broadcast licensee shall afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of conflicting views on matters of public importance.”

What was “reasonable” was deliberately left vague; in practice, the FCC interpreted it as requiring something like one hour of rebuttal for every five hours devoted to promoting a particular point of view. In other words, a talkshow where the callers got as much airtime as the host, and where one out of every three callers disagreed with the host, would be perfectly in compliance with the Fairness Doctrine, without any other programming required.

Given that much more extreme and intrusive policy invented by the pollsters was only rejected by a modest plurality, you have to wonder how an honest description of the policy would poll.

See Extra!: “The Fairness Doctrine: How We Lost It, and Why We Need It Back” (1-2/05) by Steve Rendall.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.